CFL Preview - Edmonton (7-11) at Toronto (9-9)
From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
DATE & TIME: Sunday, Nov. 11, 1 p.m. (et).
GAME NOTES: Regardless of who finally gets the nod as the starting quarterback, the entire Edmonton Eskimos squad still gets a shot at taking down the Toronto Argonauts in the 2012 East Division Semifinals at Rogers Centre on Sunday afternoon.
One of the big stories coming out of Edmonton early this week is the dilemma that head coach Kavis Reed has in choosing a starting quarterback. Coach Reed has both Kerry Joseph and Matt Nichols vying for the position as the team tries to ready itself for a potential playoff run that could end in the 100th Grey Cup later this month.
The main goal for coach Reed is to get the offense off to a strong start instead of having to play catch-up against a Toronto team which has the potential to put up points when that offense is operating at full speed. Coach Reed acknowledges that, even though one of the quarterbacks will be the first to take the field with the offense, he fully expects to use both which could cause the Toronto defense some issues.
Although it doesn't much factor into the action on the field at this point in the season, the Eskimos were subject of another major story heading into the final weekend of the regular season as club president and CEO Len Rhodes announced that general manager Eric Tillman had been relieved of his duties. Most agree that at this point in the season a general manager's job is to be looking forward towards the following season as he forges designs on an updated roster and for the time being he doesn't have much involvement with the current state of affairs, but still the action caused a ripple in the team's preparations for this game nonetheless.
In the case of the Argonauts, they might have a slight advantage at the quarterback position, not so much because Ricky Ray has been dominant the last few weeks of the regular season, but because he is going up against his former team and might have some insights on how to exploit potential weaknesses.
Ray, who sat out the final game of the regular season after the Argos were assured a postseason spot, had some trouble adjusting to his new situation at times but still threw for 4,059 yards to notch his seventh 4,000-yard campaign in his 10 seasons in the CFL. Against his former mates, Ray combined to hit 52-of-77 passes for 549 yards and a pair of majors this year, but he also tossed a couple of interceptions in the second meeting as well. Despite his occasional issues, Ray still set the single-season record for completion percentage for the Argos (.686).
Part of the success for Ray this season has been his developing relationship with Chad Owens who used to be primarily a kick returner and special team standout, but this year he was given more responsibilities within the Toronto offense and responded by leading the league in receiving with 94 catches for 1,328 yards, landing in the end zone six times on pass receptions.
But Owens didn't completely abandon his special teams efforts, in fact he also led the league in kickoff returns with 71 for a massive 1,588 yards and was third in punt returns with 77 for an additional 828 yards. In all, adding in his rushing yardage contributions as well, Owens not only registered his third season with at least 3,000 combined yards, the only player in league history to achieve the feat, he also set the new record for combined yards in a season with a staggering 3,863 yards, surpassing the mark previously held by Michael Clemons (3,840) who became the first player to ever have a pair of 3,000-yard campaigns.
Although, keeping tabs on the Flyin' Hawaiian for the Eskimos will be middle linebacker JC Sherritt, so the yards may not be quite as abundant in the postseason. Sherritt, who earned his fourth CFL Defensive Player of the Week Award earlier this week, set a new single-season record for tackles not only for the Esks but the entire league as he recorded a massive 130 stops in 2012. Only one other player in the league managed to reach triple digits in tackles, which means the feat has been very impressive. Surely Sherritt will be keying on Owens and any potentially big plays that the Argos might be cooking up in the huddle.
Even though these two squads play in the same division, it has been more than two months since they last faced off against each other, with Edmonton capturing a 26-17 victory in this same building, Prior to that, the teams kicked off the 2012 campaign back in late June with the Esks squeezing out a 19-15 win. Edmonton has now won five straight regular season meetings and since the start of 2004 the clubs have broken even over the course of 18 games at 9-9.
The winner of this meeting will be back in action next week to challenge the Montreal Alouettes in the East Division Championship round, for the right to move on to the CFL title game back here in Toronto on Nov. 25.
Staying at home during this pressure-filled time is certainly something that works in the favor of the Argos, so should having Ray standing in at quarterback against an opponent that he should know rather intimately.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Toronto 28, Edmonton 24
11/07 11:57:02 ET